Posted in: Nuts and Volts

Kickstarter: tinyTesla

August 2014

tinyTesla is a little Tesla coil that shoots sparks, plays MIDI tracks, and exercises your soldering skills. This coil kit is designed to be easy to build and assemble for anyone with basic soldering skills. Shooting lightning and playing music using electricity itself is an exciting way to learn about physics and electronics! Go check out their successfully funded Kickstarter with 17 days left to go! 

tinyTesla is a Solid-State Tesla Coil (SSTC), which has a non-resonant primary and a resonant secondary. Because the feedback loop locks on to the resonant frequency of the secondary, not the primary, tinyTesla is insensitive to its surroundings, allowing you to safely pull arcs off the coil with a metal object (pulling an arc with your finger will result in a nasty burn and is not recommended!).

oneTeslaTS is a Dual-Resonant Solid State Tesla Coil (DRSSTC), which uses a tuned primary circuit for improved performance. This design allows the coil to efficiently produce long sparks (nearly two feet!) using a compact driver and a minimum of power.


Both coils are powered by IGBT half-bridge inverters running on a 340V bus, and are available in 110V and 220V versions.


tinyTesla: Clown Music



Posted on 07/14 at 10:34 am
Posted in: Developing Perspectives

The DIY Differential

August 2014 Bryan Bergeron

When shopping recently for a large LED digital clock, I was caught in a common dilemma: Do I go for the inexpensive import for $15 or spring for the $90 DIY kit? In this case, the issue was time — I didn't have time to build the kit and needed the large digit clock for an upcoming project. So, I went with the $15 option.

The Chinese-manufactured clock performed flawlessly ... for about a week. Then, the display was nothing but random LED segments. When I cracked open the case, I found nothing in the way of user-serviceable parts. Everything was soldered in place, including the main IC which looked like a spider epoxied to the motherboard. So, there went $15 plus a lot of time and trouble. I ended up using a different time-keeping system forthe project, and all was well.

After the crunch, I revisited the world of large digit LED clocks. This time, I went for the $90 kit. After three hours of soldering and a bit of sanding, the clock was ready for mounting. Although I haven't exercised the option of reprogramming the clock to, say, a countdown timer, it's only a matter of Arduino programming. 

Plus, there's a small breadboard area on the clock's motherboard. Moreover, I know that if the clock suddenly dies, I can resuscitate it by replacing the failed components and reloading the Arduino program if necessary.

Is this to say that relatively expensive kits are the only way to go? No — sometimes you just have to go with off the shelf, affordable, and sometimes cheap options. When you do have to decide, just make an informed decision. Is there something to learn from, say, building your next clock, radio, timer, LED display, or other circuit, or is your time spent better elsewhere?

It's a personal choice, and onethat depends on your level of mastery in a given area — and, of, course, budget. No need to twiddle with an LED project if you're looking to learn about digital signal processing (DSP) techniques. It’s better to pick an analog-to-digital converter project.

By the way, the $90 DIY clock is still running months after the $15 clock's demise. If and when the DIY clock dies, I'm sure I'll have the means to repair it. Sure, I could keepbuying $15 clocks, but I'd have to deal with the uncertainty of the cheap versions failing at the worst possible moment, and the moral implications of constantly contributing to landfills. Keep building! NV

Posted on 07/14 at 10:35 am
Posted in: Nuts and Volts

It’s Official: Intel® Galileo Gen 2 has launched!

Combining the simplicity of the Arduino* development environment with the performance of Intel® technology and the capabilities of a full Linux* software stack, Intel® Galileo Gen 2 is the latest in a line of fully featured prototyping and development platforms designed specifically for makers, students, educators, and DIY electronics enthusiasts.

Intel® Galileo is Arduino-certified. Providing users with a fully open source hardware and software development environment, the Intel Galileo board complements and extends the Arduino line of products to deliver more advanced compute functionality to those familiar with Arduino prototyping tools. The Intel Galileo development board is designed to be hardware-, software-, and pin-compatible with a wide range of Arduino Uno* R3 shields and additionally allows users to incorporate Linux firmware calls in their Arduino sketch programming.

Based on the Intel® Quark™ SoC X1000, a 32-bit Intel® Pentium® processor-class system on a chip (SoC), the genuine Intel® processor and native I/O capabilities of the Intel Galileo board deliver great performance, and a broad spectrum of hardware peripheral and software support to those looking for an affordable single board controller that will bring their project ideas to life quickly and easily.

Key features

  • Intel Quark SoC X1000 application processor, a 32-bit, single core, single-thread, Pentium® instruction set architecture (ISA)-compatible CPU, operating at speeds up to 400 MHz.
  • Support for a wide range of industry standard I/O interfaces, including a full-sized mini-PCI Express* slot, 100 Mb Ethernet port, Micro-SD slot, USB host port, and USB client port.
  • 256 MByte DDR3, 512 KByte embedded SRAM, 8 Mbyte NOR Flash, and 8 Kbit EEPROM standard on the board, plus support for MicroSD card up to 32 MB.
  • Hardware-/pin-compatibility with a wide range of Arduino Uno R3 shields.
  • Programmable through the Arduino integrated development environment (IDE) that is supported on Microsoft Windows*, Mac OS*, and Linux host operating systems.
  • Support for Yocto 1.4 Poky Linux release.

What's new with Intel Galileo Gen 2

  • 6-pin 3.3V USB TTL UART header replaces 3.5mm jack RS-232 console port for Linux debug. New 6-pin connector mates with standard FTDI* USB serial cable (TTL-232R-3V3) and popular USB-to-Serial breakout boards. 12 GPIOs now fully native for greater speed and improved drive strength.
  • 12-bit pulse-width modulation (PWM) for more precise control of servos and smoother response.
  • Console UART1 can be redirected to Arduino* headers in sketches, eliminating the need for soft-serial in many cases.
  • 12V Power-over-Ethernet (PoE) capable (PoE module installation required).
  • Power regulation system changed to accept power supplies from 7V to 15V.


Read more about the Galileo Gen 2.


Posted on 07/14 at 10:56 am
Posted in: Nuts and Volts

New Product Launch! Introducing Raspberry Pi Model B+

July 2014

Say Hello to the new Raspberry Pi Model B+. The B+ is not the Raspberry Pi 2, but rather just a replacement version for the Raspberry Pi. The B+ now offers two more USB 2.0 ports, a microSD card reader and 14 more GPIO pins, making a total of 40 on the board. With the new B+ you're also going to be using much less power, so those using a battery pack  or for mobile projects you should see a significant benefit. But that's not all. Watch the video clip to learn more. Go order yours today! 

The Model B+ uses the same BCM2835 application processor as the Model B. It runs the same software, and still has 512MB RAM; but James and the team have made the following key improvements:

  • More GPIO. The GPIO header has grown to 40 pins, while retaining the same pinout for the first 26 pins as the Model B.
  • More USB. We now have 4 USB 2.0 ports, compared to 2 on the Model B, and better hotplug and overcurrent behaviour.
  • Micro SD. The old friction-fit SD card socket has been replaced with a much nicer push-push micro SD version.
  • Lower power consumption. By replacing linear regulators with switching ones we’ve reduced power consumption by between 0.5W and 1W.
  • Better audio. The audio circuit incorporates a dedicated low-noise power supply.

Neater form factor. We’ve aligned the USB connectors with the board edge, moved composite video onto the 3.5mm jack, and added four squarely-placed mounting holes.
If you’re interested in precise measurements, or want to find out what the new GPIO does, check out the diagrams below.

Posted on 07/14 at 9:06 am
Posted in: Nuts and Volts

Kickstarter: Open Analog

Open Analog is an organization dedicated to exciting makers about analog hardware. They make popular ICs into transistor level kits! If you want to get your hands on one, you can back their Kickstarter project. 

SevenFortyFun Op-Amp Kit

The first Open Source analog IC kit from Open Analog has been created, assembled, and verified. We call it the SevenFortyFun and it is a transistor level op amp kit. You can finally get the chance to understand whats going on inside those ICs! Now we need your help to proto the next revision (I gotta eat somehow!). This Kickstarter campaign is to raise money in order to print the first batch of PCBs and order parts for production volume. Changes to the board include:

            - Component outline changes

            - Trace rerouting

            - Holes for standoffs

            - Make it pin compatible (number wise) with a 741 OpAmp

While this may not seem like significant changes the time and cost of this endeavor is too steep for me to conquer alone! With your help we will be able to bring SevenFortyFun Rev 2.0 to life!

In addition, your funding will also back the next kits in our product line! Kits on the drawing board include:

              - 555 Timer

              - Low Dropout Regulator

              - Switching Regulator

              - Suggest one! email

Posted on 07/14 at 11:02 am
Posted in: Nuts and Volts

Kickstarter: McThings

June 2014

McThings are a collection of devices and software that can be used to measure and control anything and connect to the cloud. The main device is a measure and control board, called a McModule, which is a tiny low-power device that communicates wirelessly to the cloud through a McRouter. McModules are designed to be very small, consume minimal power and therefore run for years on a coin cell.

Other device in the McThings product line are:

  •     A McRouter is a WiFi bridge between the Internet and the McModules so McModules can communicate with the cloud. They provide integration with IFTTT, Facebook, Twitter, SMS, Email and other cloud services. WiFi setup for the McRouter can be done on an IPhone, Android phone, PC or MAC and is fast and simple because the McRouter uses TI's SimpleLink and SmartConfig technology. See
  •     The McPlug is a power plug that can wirelessly control two power outlets with solid state switches. The maximum voltage of 250V AC and a maximum current of 16 Amp.

The McThings vision

Our vision is that eventually every house, shop, garage, etc. will have a large number of low-cost, low-power easy to setup sensors and controllers that will improve efficiency, quality of life and minimize power consumption. A router will connect the sensors and controllers to the cloud for full integration with services like Facebook, Twitter, SMS Email, Google+, WeMo devices etc. The McThings infrastructure fulfills this vision with low-power and low-cost modules, full internet connectivity and no programming required.


Some things you can do with it.

  •     Measure and log the temperature of any location in your house, your fridge, your car while it is at home, outside not too far from the house, in the attic, etc.
  •     Log temperature over years, compare the temperature with different wind conditions, find cold spots, calibrate your heating system and save energy.
  •     Check the temperature of the hot-tub without going outside
  •     Send a tweet, text or email when your freezer/fridge gets too warm, the hot-tub to cold, etc.
  •     Put one in the ice bath of a keg to make sure your beer is always cold
  •     Use it as a dog activity tracker
  •     Remote control anything that has a plug
  •     Connect it to you garden furniture and switch lights on when somebody tries to move it.
  •     Use it as a remote for all your lights
  •     Switch your lights on and off so it looks that somebody is at home.
  •     Measure the vibration when somebody walks up the stairs and switch lights on.
  •     Log when doors are opened and closed, change the behavior of your kids and save energy.
  •     Buy some low-cost motions sensors and door-sensors and build your own low-cost security system that sends you a text when somebody gets in the house so you can call the police and save hundreds on monitoring
  •     Log the sun-rise and sunset time.
  •     Measure when you plants, inside or out-side need water.
  •     Get a text when someone knocks on the door.
  •     Detect when doors, windows or drawers are open/closed
  •     Measure and log the moisture in your plants/flower beds/grass
  •     Log information from a full weather station like wind speed/direction, rain, and humidity
  •     Get a tweet or text when someone that shouldn't open your cookie jar does it anyway
  •     Turn on lights and a siren when a drawer with valuables is opened
  •     Control your lights by just tapping the McPlug or any other location
  •     Measure your car battery voltage and send a message if it gets low.
  •     Anything you can come up with.


Visit the McThings Kickstarter if you're interested in backing this project.

Posted on 06/14 at 3:15 pm
Posted in: Nuts and Volts

Kickstarter: Bakerboard

June 2014

There are many examples of electronics trainers on the market. All share two things in common: they are expensive, and do not offer a built-in oscilloscope and other test equipment. Oscilloscopes are invaluable tools for performing electronics work, and most are just too expensive for the hobbyist/student to purchase. The Spectral Display is a useful and unique feature as well. Our analog trainer offers all of the above features, including a function generator with a white noise source and power supply,and will retail for around $250 (less if the volumes are high enough).


There are many examples of electronics trainers on the market. All share two things in common: they are expensive, and do not offer a built-in oscilloscope and other test equipment. Oscilloscopes are invaluable tools for performing electronics work, and most are just too expensive for the hobbyist/student to purchase. The Spectral Display is a useful and unique feature as well. Our analog trainer offers all of the above features, including a function generator with a white noise source and power supply,and will retail for around $250 (less if the volumes are high enough).


Key Features:

  • 32 KHz Function Generator with seven waveforms
  • Offset, amplitude, and frequency control.
  • Audio range dual channel auto-triggered oscilloscope, 25 KHz, seven ranges.
  • Spectral Display with spectrogram and waterfall mode for imaging audio signals at seven sampling rates.
  • Full color backlit 320 x 240 pixel TFT display.
  • Switches, potentiometers, and LEDs for projects.
  • Three power supplies at -12V, +5V, +12V.
  • Large surface breadboard for building complex circuits.
  • Textbook/manual with solved problems and labs

Posted on 06/14 at 2:25 pm
Posted in: Nuts and Volts

Parallax is a Manufacturing Champion!

Champions of Manufacturing Summit is a recognition program launched by The California Manufacturers & Technology Association. For its inaugural year, the association picked seven companies to highlight at a free event from 10 a.m. to noon June 18 at the Sacramento Convention Center. Parallax was one of the seven companies selected to be honored at the event. Way too go Parallax! We always knew they were champions!

CMTA Champions of Manufacturing Summit

June 18, 2014, Sacramento Convention Center, 10 AM to Noon.

Join our celebration of the exciting world of California manufacturing.

    Congratulate the Champions of Manufacturing who are growing in the state

  •         Sierra Nevada Brewing Company
  •         California Steel Industries
  •         Fathom
  •         California Custom Fruits and Flavors
  •         Vista Metals
  •         Parallax
  •         Keystone Engineering Company

    Hear from state leaders about what they are doing to promote California manufacturing

    Learn how manufacturing could lead the California recovery


“This award is the result of an awesome team comprised of people that simply have the freedom to make their own decisions and work as they wish,” says Ken Gracey, Parallax CEO.


[Source] Parallax

Posted on 06/14 at 12:55 pm
Posted in: Developing Perspectives

Can’t Get There From Here

June 2014 Bryan Bergeron

My most frequent email inquiry is some version of "I've been doing transistors and resistors for 30 years, how do I get into microcontrollers?" The readers that send in these inquiries invariably conclude that they simply can't get there from where they stand. That may be true, but it comes down to a matter of perspective. What I mean is that learning is really about forming links to existing memories (the psychologists call it association), as well as forming new relatively standalone ones (accommodation).

Assimilation is easy because the new knowledge — say, how a microcontroller operates — fits nicely into what we already know about electronics. However, in reality, microcontrollers don't really map well to, say, capacitors.

Accommodation takes a lot more effort. You have to build a new model of the universe. You might even have to change your mind about some long-held beliefs. For someone moving from a few decades of work with analog components, a modern microcontroller is really a new universe.

Sure, there are pull-up resistors on I/O ports and capacitors to filter the power supply spikes. However, for the most part, there is little crossover from analog component to digital microcontroller.

I think the frustration comes in when someone who has been in electronics for decades picks up, say, a PIC or Arduino and expects to know how to use it in five minutes. It's the expectation that's the problem. In reality, old knowledge just doesn't transfer.

Whether using and/or learning theory, becoming fluent in microcontrollers involves a lot of accommodation.

Children and younger adults often have an easier time picking up microcontrollers, relative to someone with years of experience with analog circuits. This is — in part — because they have no legacy knowledge to get in the way. They don't have any preconceived (and wrong) notions on how the device should work, based on their experience with discrete analog components.

So, if you're one of those frustrated readers, the solution is to adjust your expectations. Admit to yourself that you're a novice when it comes to microcontrollers. Open your mind to new ideas and stop trying to fit the digital world into your analog universe.

In addition to the "think different" approach, you need to have some hands-on experiences to cement what you learn. I usually suggest picking up a $20 Arduino Uno and spending a few weeks going through the example code that's part of the integrated development environment (IDE) that's available online.

Turns out you can get there from here, as long as you're willing to nudge "here" a bit. NV

Posted on 05/14 at 2:11 pm
Posted in: Nuts and Volts


May 2014

littleBits (spelled lower case L, upper case B, all one word) consists of tiny circuit-boards with specific functions engineered to snap together with magnets. No soldering, no wiring, no programming, just snap together for prototyping, learning and fun. Each bit has a specific function (light, sound, sensors, buttons, thresholds, pulse, motors, etc), and modules snap to make larger circuits. Just as LEGO™ allows you to create complex structures with very little engineering knowledge, littleBits are small, simple, intuitive, blocks that make creating with sophisticated electronics a matter of snapping small magnets together. This video was entirely made with littleBits, check out the individual projects at:

Each littleBit has one unique function (light, sound, sensors, buttons), and with different combinations you can make large circuits. littleBits allows you to create interactive projects without any background in engineering, programming or wiring, in a few seconds. It's as easy as snapping LEGO bricks together. And the best part is, it's open source!

Posted on 05/14 at 12:36 pm
  • submit question
  • reader feedback
  • submit ideas


  • USB, LEDs, and Some Sensors

    Turning LEDs on and off is fun and all, but why not add a sensor or two that would be useful for something other than the usual light show? Read More...

  • The Versatile Wireless Doorbell

    Advances in technology often decrease price points, but not usefulness. See how to turn one circuit into several devices that most homeowners would find invaluable. Read More...

  • Frequency Counters and Retrofitting

    Even the lowest grade frequency counters are often the most accurate instruments on the test bench. This article will describe their general principle operation, but more specifically on the construction and retrofitting into existing equipment such as the sweep generator and RF signal generator covered in recent issues. Plus, we'll take a look at expanding added features, all the way to a full blown universal counter. Read More...